As domestic carriers like United Airlines and American Airlines raise the cost of their award flights — particularly when partners are priced much higher than the domestic carrier — I’ve been focusing on earning more miles with foreign airline loyalty programs. They don’t operate the way you’re used to, which can create valuable opportunities.
In most cases you’re not giving up choice — you can still book the same airlines using miles from a different partner — but you do get to use a different loyalty currency with its own rules and award chart. You might save miles or get better availability. Singapore Airlines is a great example with its KrisFlyer program. They release almost no award space to partners, and you can’t even search for Singapore’s award space on United.com anymore. But you can usually find flights for the dates you want if you have KrisFlyer miles transferred from Membership Rewards or Starwood Preferred Guest.
Yes, you have to pay fuel surcharges when you book awards with some foreign programs. I think the flexibility to get the flights you want is worth it in some cases. Wouldn’t you prefer to book Lufthansa First Class more than 15 days before departure?
Just today, Barclaycard brought back the 50,000-point sign-up offer for the Premier Miles & More Word MasterCard® when you spend $5,000 within the first 90 days — earning a total of 55,000 miles. There may also be promotions for existing cardholders throughout the year for earning a few thousand more miles (Megan was offered 15,000 miles when she spent $750 per month for three months).
The normal offer is only 20,000 miles, so this is definitely worth jumping on. You can do quite a bit with 55,000 miles, which you’ll have after completing the $5,000 minimum spend. If you need more, you can transfer more miles in from an outside program like (20,000 Starpoints = 25,000 Miles & More miles).
Using Miles & More for International Flights
Barclays has a great chart on its offer page showing all the different places you can go with just 50,000 miles. One great sweet spot is from the U.S. to Europe for only 50,000 miles in economy class. And although everyone would like to sit up front, I’ve flown in coach nonstop between Los Angeles and Frankfurt and found it to be pretty tolerable.
You see, Lufthansa is widely regarded as one of the best airlines for travel in premium cabins. Lufthansa even provides a separate bed and dedicated first class terminal on some flights. And it’s not uncommon to see such service and quality trickle down to the rear of the plane.
If you do want to fly up front, having Miles & More miles from the Premier Miles & More Word MasterCard® makes it much easier to find and book award space. These awards are very difficult to obtain if you are using miles with a partner like United Airlines because there are only 8 seats per plane, and Lufthansa opens award space just two weeks before departure. But if you have a Miles & More account, Lufthansa’s own customers have greater availability many weeks in advance.
The caveat is that you will have to pay a fuel surcharge for your Miles & More award ticket, while United does not collect these. These fuel surcharges can be several hundred dollars, and when added to the mandatory taxes (even United charges those) you might pay as much as $1,000 for your round-trip first class award.
The good news is that despite the fuel surcharges, you are paying many fewer Miles & More miles to fly on Lufthansa vs. booking with United’s MileagePlus program. Here are example award prices from the U.S. to Europe:
- Economy Class: 50,000 miles round-trip (60,000 if booked through United)
- Business Class: 105,000 miles round-trip (140,000 if booked through United)
- First Class: 170,000 miles round-trip (220,000 miles if booked through United)
So Miles & More will charge you fewer miles for business and first class awards than if you used United miles AND you get more availability. The catch is those pesky fuel surcharges, but you’re getting a better in-flight experience. For some people, paying a fuel surcharge is the only way to fly Lufthansa first class because they need to plan their flights in advance and can’t wait to the last minute to book. Taxes and fuel surcharge totaling $1,000 are still better than paying $20,000 retail.
Using Miles & More for Domestic Flights
Often the best use of foreign award programs is to book domestic flights. Fuel surcharges are part of most international fares. And while most U.S. carriers do not apply these to international awards, many foreign carriers are all too happy to. Domestic flights within the U.S. don’t have any fuel surcharges, so you don’t have to worry about this if you use Miles & More to book travel within the United States.
- Economy Class: 25,000 miles round-trip
- Business Class: 35,000 miles round-trip
- First Class: 50,000 miles round-trip
One-way awards are permitted for 50% of the round-trip price, rounded down. You could save 1,000 miles by booking two one-ways in some cases.
Furthermore, you can take advantage of certain differences in how U.S. and foreign carriers operate. If you’ve ever traveled to Europe, you probably noticed that intra-Europe flights only have economy class and business class. Well, United Airlines may call its domestic premium cabin “first class”, but it codes the award space as business class. That means you can book it as a business class award and use fewer miles.
Round-trip from SFO to JFK on United’s p.s. service with lie flat seats is 50,000 miles booking through United MileagePlus but only 35,000 miles with Lufthansa Miles & More. Even Hawaii is cheaper! First class using United’s miles is 80,000 miles round-trip on a two-cabin plane under the new award chart. But with Miles & More, you pay only 70,000 miles round-trip.
Premier Miles & More Word MasterCard®
- Earn 20,000 award miles after your first purchase or balance transfer
- Earn an additional 30,000 award miles when you spend $5,000 in purchases within the first 90 days of account opening
- Earn 2 award miles per $1 on ticket purchases directly from Miles & More integrated airline partners and 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases
- Cardholders receive a companion ticket after first use of the account and annually after each account anniversary
- No foreign transaction fees on purchases made outside the U.S.
- Redeem miles for flight awards and upgrades on Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, SWISS, Star Alliance member airlines and other partners
- $79 Annual Fee. Please see Terms and Conditions for complete details